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Being an American Abroad

NU Students AbroadAs an American abroad, you will be exposed to different perspectives, particularly in times of international conflict or political unrest. You should be aware that the media coverage and public opinions in your host country might differ from those back home. It is important to keep an open mind. If you try to learn from these differences, you are likely to develop a better understanding of your own culture.

The following information, from AHA international, can be helpful in learning how to prepare for this new form of confrontation.

  • Try to understand the critic's motive(s): Americans are fond of the saying "Don't judge a book by its cover." Outward appearances are not always enough to make a judgment about a situation where you are being confronted with anti-American sentiment. Ask your critic questions that may explain this person's beliefs about the United States and why he or she might hold them. Does this person get ideas from the media? Is this something being taught in school? Has this person experienced some sort of harassment from an American? If you understand the critic's motive(s), or where his or her information comes from, perhaps you can find some common ground and a more tolerant way to respond.
  • Draw upon personal experiences and observations: When someone asks you a question like, "Why are Americans so wasteful of natural resources?" your first response might be to say, "Oh, not me." Whether or not the question is based on fact, one way to respond might be to draw on your own experiences and observations. In this case, you can say that while you cannot speak for the rest of the American population, you have your own personal practices, such as recycling, water conservation, or use of public transportation.
  • Avoid becoming defensive: You sometimes can't help becoming defensive when your culture is being criticized. Try to avoid getting defensive as much as possible. Keep an open mind, and remember to try and understand your critic's motives.
  • Become familiar with common U.S. facts and policies:It's a common belief overseas that Americans are uneducated. How can you dispel that stereotype? People in other countries will probably ask you a lot of questions about the United States on such varied topics as geography, politics, pop culture, etc. They may be intelligent questions like, "Who decides whether a person is guilty of a crime?" and they may be very stupid questions like, "Do all Americans wear cowboy boots and ride horses?" However, it is not uncommon to find that people overseas know a lot more about U.S. politics and policies than you do. You should familiarize yourself with basic U.S. facts and policies because you do not want to appear uneducated or ignorant of these basic facts. Some areas of suggestion are: U.S. geography, political system, judicial system and foreign policy (especially in regard to your host country).